The Challenges of Writing on Demand

Writing Assessments


During my tenure as an ESL teacher, I have to admit that I dreaded the return to school after the holiday break.  Besides having to brave the blustery Nebraska winter, all of our fourth graders had to take the state writing assessment at the end of January.  In Nebraska, fourth graders always have to write a personal narrative, so we spent September through January focusing on this writing style.

Once the state writing assessment was over, the classroom teachers were breathing a sigh of relief... but not me!  I knew that I had ten days to try to prepare my ELL students for the prompts they would encounter on the ELDA writing assessment (Nebraska's assessment for ELL's at the time).  This assessment couldn't have been more different than the one that they had just taken.  For the ELDA, students had to write to 4 prompts, instead of just 1.  Each prompt contained a different mode and/or purpose, so it was vitally important that they be able to read a prompt and closely analyze it to determine what they were to write.  For example, their four prompts looked similar to these:

1.  What is your favorite season?  Write a paragraph that tells your favorite season, and explain why it's your favorite.

2.  Think of your favorite animal.  Write a paragraph and share facts about that animal.

3.  You have a new student in your classroom, and your teacher will choose someone to help the new student on his first day at your school.  Write a letter to your teacher explaining why you should be chosen to help this student.

4.  School has been cancelled because of a snowstorm.  Write a story about what you during the day that school has been cancelled.


UGH!  Just the thought of these prompts cause serious anxiety to bubble up inside of me!  The results weren't pretty.  For the most part, my 3rd and 5th grade ELL students were more comfortable with the test, because they had been exposed to various writing modes and purposes throughout the school year.  My poor 4th graders, who had only seen personal narrative prompts until I tried to cram in some other ones ten days before the assessment, tended to be confused by the prompts.

Needless to say, when a teacher emailed me a few weeks ago, asking me to consider creating a writing PowerPoint to help prepare next year's students for the writing prompts on the PARCC assessment because she was unhappy with this year's results, I jumped at the opportunity!  I know that stress all too well!

I created the resource that I think would have helped my students.  I found an anchor chart on Pinterest that used the acronym SPAM, and I immediately noticed that the acronym could be rewritten to form MAPS!  Therefore, I created the following MAPS analogy:
Preparing for Writing Assessments


Then I created a section for each letter of the acronym, and included prompts and writing samples for students to analyze:
Preparing for Writing Assessments

Preparing for Writing Assessments

Preparing for Writing Assessments

Writing on Demand


Finally, I wrapped it up with a series of prompts where students get to identify all four pieces:

I also decided to take the prompts from the PowerPoint and include them in a "prompt packet".  After analyzing a prompt and some writing pieces, you can have students write their own response to each prompt.

Feel free to check out this resource if you think you might be able to use it in your classroom!  


FREE Guided Reading Lesson Plans...Who Stole the Wizard of Oz?

I have always loved mysteries!  In fact, I read the entire series of 39 Trixie Belden mysteries when I was in upper elementary school.  I remember always feeling utterly perplexed as to how Trixie could ever possibly solve each mystery.  Once I started a Trixie Beldon book, I read it quite quickly because I just had  to find out who the guilty culprit was as soon as possible!   I remember feeling a sense of accomplishment along with Trixie when the pieces all fell together and the mystery was solved at the end of the book... and immediately wanting to start another book in the series.

My own love for mysteries is probably why I enjoy reading A to Z mysteries and Who Stole The Wizard of Oz? with students!  As a teacher, it is quite entertaining to read children's mysteries! When I read an A to Z mystery now, the trail of clues (and red herrings!) left by the author seem so obvious to my adult mind, but the students never seem to notice them. In my opinion, Who Stole The Wizard of Oz? by Avi is one of the best children's mysteries available, and is a must-read for students at that reading level.

Occasionally, I upload guided reading lesson plans I used during my tenure as an upper elementary reading teacher to my blog. Today is another one of those days! These plans aren't fancy- they are simply real-teaching Word-document lesson plans that I wrote back before I knew TeachersPayTeachers existed! They will likely need to be tweaked to meet the needs of your students and your school district's expectations, but they will hopefully at least give you a starting point in terms of questions and vocabulary words to highlight for each chapter!

Feel free to download them if you can use them! According to the Scholastic website, Who Stole The Wizard of Oz? is a Level P book with a Lexile Level of 520. (Amazon affiliate link follows.)


Click HERE for Word version.
Click HERE for PDF version.
Detective Image by Mel from Graphics From the Pond.  Background Paper by Sonya DeHart Design.
(If you'd like to see the other free guided reading lesson plans I have available, click on the links below.)
Shiloh (Level R)
Flat Stanley (Level M)
I, Amber Brown (Level N)
Chocolate Covered Ants (Level Q)

Do you have any other favorite mysteries you like to read with your students?

Guest Post...Asking Questions!


I'd like to introduce you to Helal, a third grade teacher from Ontario, Canada.  Helal offered to write a guest post, and of course, I took her up on her offer!  When I asked her about her favorite subject to teach, she replied "all things language!"  She is currently on leave from teaching because she and her husband recently moved to the United States.  She says that she is passionate about sharing ideas that will help teachers, and this is readily apparent when you check out her blog, My Everyday Classroom and her Pinterest page.  In fact, she said that if anyone is in need of inspiration regarding a specific subject, be sure to contact her- she would like to write blog posts that address these types of requests!!!  We hope you enjoy her topic today... the importance of student-generated questions!


Asking questions is one of the most wonderful strategies to get your students delving deeper into a text. I've stumbled upon a wonderful way to get your students to ask questions that will greatly enhance their understanding, allow them to make deeper connections and potentially create a lifelong love of curious exploration. After you've had some lessons about questions as a reading strategy, it's important to talk to your students about the levels of questioning that can occur. Here is a wonderful example:
Asking Effective Questions - A reading strategy that will enhance your students' understanding.
This is the original blog post where I found this anchor chart.
   

 Oh, wouldn't it be amazing to have your students asking inventive questions! The joy that will appear on your face when your students asks "if you had a Giving Tree, what would you do differently?" is priceless, my friends. I promise you, you can get your students to this deep level of questioning. The first step is to use the wonderful anchor chart above as a start. Here are some other ways to get your students asking critical thinking questions:

  Start A Wonder Wall
Asking Effective Questions - A reading strategy that will enhance your students' understanding.
By Connie at Welcome to First Grade

 A wonder wall is a great way to get your students to practice asking questions. They can ask questions about any curriculum topic, not just reading. What's even greater is that students can take a stab at answering the questions, or sharing theories with each other. This is an informal way to get your students thinking about asking questions as a step towards learning.

  Give examples of "thin" & "thick" questions.
Asking Effective Questions - A reading strategy that will enhance your students' understanding.
By Leslie Ann from Life in Fifth Grade
      
This is a great way to get your students gauging whether their questions warrant a deeper level of thinking. Give examples of the type of responses critical thinking questions garner, and how they usually sound as well. The anchor chart above is fantastic for this purpose. Also, allow your students to practice asking these questions with your consistent feedback on how they are doing. 

  Lots of Practice
 Let your students have lots of practice not only asking deeper questions, but using texts to answer them as well. Here are some classic ways to practice: 

Asking Effective Questions - A reading strategy that will enhance your students' understanding.
By Liz at The Happy Teacher
Create examples of your own, for students to learn from.


Model questions for specific stories, and then have your students create their own questions.


Asking Effective Questions - A reading strategy that will enhance your students' understanding.
This freebie is from Shawna at Classroom Freebies.
Give students plenty of opportunities to practice.



How do you get your students asking meaningful questions? 




Sources: Patheos Welcome to First Grade Life in Fifth Grade Reading Workshop Classroom Freebies The Happy Teacher


Author's Craft... Thinking About the Text


Within the text...   Beyond the Text...   About the Text...

When I began my two-year tenure as a Title 1 reading teacher a few years ago, these question categories by Fountas & Pinnell were new to me.  In case you are unfamiliar with these terms...

  • Within the Text  refers to those lower-level "right there" questions in which students can easily find the answer in the text.  Two examples:  What was the main problem in the story?  How was the problem solved?
  • Beyond the Text  refers to those higher-level questions that often require students to use their own background knowledge to make inferences that aren't directly stated in the book. Two examples:  How did the main character change in the story?  Why was ____ so unhappy about having to move?
  • About the Text  refers to those higher-level questions that are related to the craft of being an author- the types of things the author did to make the book interesting for the reader.  Two examples:  How does the author communicate a feeling of _____?  Explain the play on words on page ___.
As a teacher, I found it easy to ask questions that fit into the first two categories.  However, that third category was considerably more difficult. Furthermore, this category was the one that most of my students frequently struggled with.

When I found this book, though, I was immediately inspired to turn it into an "Author's Craft" lesson where my students and I could discuss how the author "played with words" in an attempt to entertain the reader.  (Well, I must admit... I didn't actually find it.  It was a book I had ordered several years before and had forgotten about until my daughter found it and brought it to me to read to her.  As I was reading it, I realized that my 6-year-old daughter didn't understand any of the author's humor and plays on words.... but I thought that my fourth and fifth grade students would understand at least some of the author's humor.) (Amazon affiliate link follows.)



As I read the book to my students, I recorded our thoughts on an anchor chart.  As you can see, I created three columns.  In the first column, we recorded a "clever" sentence used by the author.  In the next column, we recorded what it meant in the book (and whether it was an idiom).  In the third column, we attempted to explain what made that sentence particularly clever and entertaining for the reader.
Studying Author's Craft using an read-aloud
This anchor chart shows a small fraction of the "clever sentences" in this book..  A reader could easily identify over 20 "plays on words" used by the author throughout this entire book

I have to be honest... the majority of my students struggled with this- especially at first.  But after I explained several "clever sentences" at the beginning of the book, they seemed to be stretching their minds and looking for different ways that the reader could be entertained by various sentences.  Better yet, when I revisited this concept later during small group guided reading lessons by asking questions like "Did you notice how the author used an idiom to add humor on this page?", students were often able to correctly identify the idiom and explain the author's word play.

The basic premise of the book is that a T-Rex is coming toward their town, so all of the inhabitants rush to leave.  Here are a few of the pages:
"The jump ropes skipped town."

"The bananas split, peeled out, slipped away."

"The frogs hopped a train, and that train made tracks."

"The basketball players went traveling, while the baseball players struck out on their own."

"Good buy," said the shoppers.
"Buy, buy," said the shopkeepers.

I am linking up with Tammy from The Owl Teacher for her Mentor Text Monday linky party

Have a great week!